Man and machines

I was listening to an interesting discussion yesterday about the nature of technology and change, which are inextricably linked.  They were describing the way that technology was changing our world, uniting people, speeding up communication etc.; all very familiar sentiments till you realised these words were describing the introduction of the telegraph over 100 years ago!  Technology and change has been with us for a long time, it just moves faster now and lulls us into a false sense that we can deal with it. 

One of the most interesting thoughts was that the most complex piece of technology was the modern city and that this was created by the intersection of the car and the elevator.  There are a series of ‘backbones’ such as roads, drains and other major bits of infrastructure on which we hang all our buildings and other creations.  We then weave our lives and our businesses around these.  We are always, literally, building on the past.  A city is made up of an almost infinitely complex set of interactions and is a mix of hardware and software (us!) and thus can appropriately be thought of as a  bit technology.  It is certainly a system.

The thought I had was that on a simpler level, even a small business is made up of the same elements.  We have the interaction of people, systems and technology, of time and place.  Because we are used to them we don’t realise the complexity of the interactions required to keep the ‘machine’ working.  If one person has a bad day, it can spark off a string of consequences that can affect the whole system and affect its customers or suppliers. By chance, later that day, I was talking to a businessman who specialises in major infrastructure projects and we agreed that despite all the clever engineering and design, the one element that always tends to be overlooked is the people part of the equation.  Never underestimate the power of people to slow down change if you don’t handle them properly..

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